In 2017, The Salt Lake Tribune was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting ( for "a string of vivid reports revealing the perverse, punitive and cruel treatment given to sexual assault victims at Brigham Young University, one of Utah’s most powerful institutions." The winning package also included an investigation into how multiple reports of sexual assault against one Utah State University football player were handled by local police and the university. Four members of the team will answer questions about the reporting process and the investigations: Erin Alberty, Jessica Miller, Sheila McCann and Rachel Piper.

This AMA is part of r/IAmA’s “Spotlight on Journalism” project which aims to shine a light on the state of journalism and press freedom in 2018. Join us for a new AMA every day in October. 

Edited 2:35 p.m. MT: Hi everyone! Erin is still checking in on a few replies/questions, but we're going to say goodbye. Thank you so much for having us, and for your thoughtful questions! We'll leave you with some links:

The story on our Pulitzer win, which includes links to the 10 stories we submitted for the award

Our "Must Reads" section, which highlights other investigations into sexual assault responses at other schools and institutions

Perhaps most important: Our Subscription page. All of the revenue from subscriptions to our website come directly into our newsroom and helps support our survival, not to mention doing more investigative work. If the financial burden is too great, there are other ways to help local journalism — share our stories online, start discussions, email us feedback ...

Comments: 86 • Responses: 11  • Date: 

Duke_Paul21 karma

This is a really sensitive, and unfortunately timely issue. How do you go about uncovering these stories and gathering first-hand accounts? In many cases I'm guessing that victims may not be ready to discuss their experiences with family, close friends, or therapists, let alone see them all over the newspaper.

Unrelated but totally different, what was something you once thought you knew, but later found out you were wrong about?

racheltachel14 karma

Every story is different, of course. Erin Alberty can talk about how she contacted about a dozen women for the first BYU story. After that, we put out a form on our website asking about people's experiences at BYU with sex assault — whether they reported or didn't. From that, we got about 60 responses, which led to other stories.

For the Utah State story, we used a combo of police reports and social media to find women who'd filed reports and asked if they'd be willing to talk.

And in some cases, individuals have reached out to us.

We also handle each person's story uniquely — depending on how or whether they want to be identified. Some people want to have their story shared widely; others want to contribute to a wider story but don't want themselves to be featured prominently.

TastySaltLamp13 karma

Have you sensed any undue influence on your coverage of these stories given the Huntsman ownership of the paper?

racheltachel25 karma

Paul Huntsman bought the paper well after we'd begun the series, so the train was already down the tracks. I think we all felt a little bit of apprehension — not just about this story, but about a lot of things; it was going to be a big change to go from uncaring corporate ownership to being owned by someone involved in the community. But one of the first things he and his father said, in my recollection, when they came in to meet the newsroom was how important the BYU stories were and how they wanted to support us continuing that kind of journalism.

YourHostThenardier12 karma

Do you think that BYU has implemented amnesty effectively? How do you respond to assertions that BYU continues to punish assault victims for violating other parts of the honor code that are related to the sexual assault? Is it truly amnesty if someone is kicked out of BYU for driniking alcohol just before they are sexually assaulted?

sheilarmccann17 karma

That’s an issue we’re continuing to pursue. If there are students who assert they were punished despite circumstances that fall under the amnesty policy, we’d be interested in talking with them. A recent case at BYU-Idaho illustrated one limit of the amnesty policy when a bishop withdrew his endorsement for a student who had reported a sexual assault. That meant she was suspended from school, although it had considered her complaint founded.

darionlar8 karma

Have you seen any direct impact from this investigation in terms of new stories or leads?

racheltachel11 karma

In 2016 particularly, we did a lot of reporting on sexual assault on college campuses, from somewhat-dry explainers about Title IX and campus discipline, to stories that ended up being part of our Pulitzer submission. Reporting we'd done on one story quite often helped inform reporting on future stories, and I think we definitely saw instances where someone saw one of our stories and felt comfortable sharing their own experience, or directing us to look into something similar.

Also, a story I did this year about sexual assaults on missions came about because one of the women left me a voicemail in 2017 after getting my contact from someone I'd talked to at BYU the prior year.

Sir_BarlesCharkley6 karma

Just want to say that I really appreciate the work you all are doing in our state. I've lived in Utah my entire life, grew up Mormon, the whole nine yards. I used to think the Trib's entire purpose as a news organization was to tear the church down. I viewed any news about the church coming from the Tribune as 'anti-Mormon.' My head was in the sand reeeeeally deep. Managed to have my entire world turned upside down over the last few years as I started questioning everything and decided to leave Mormonism. Needless to say, I don't view the Tribune as anti-Mormon propaganda anymore.

I'm under the impression that my former opinions about the Tribune aren't exactly unique among my believing friends and family members. Is this something that you deal with frequently as you try to do your job reporting on the news in Utah? Or do you find that most believing members you interact with view the Tribune favorably? Of course there is a wide spectrum of opinions and beliefs. But I'm curious to know if negative sentiment towards the Tribune is common enough that it drastically affects how easy it is to work with people. Any thoughts you can share?

racheltachel6 karma

There was one story a reporter wanted to do last year, a feature about a family of YouTube stars. They declined to be interviewed because of our BYU coverage. For the most part, though, sources are aware that we're actually fair and thoughtful in our reporting.

I think this perception plays out more in the consumption of our news — there are people who vow that they'll never read us, for example, because of that perception that we're anti-Mormon. We see a lot of messages on social media and in our comments about that.

However, we also get many comments about how we're too PRO-Mormon and don't represent non-Mormon voices enough.

butte36 karma

Post investigation what are your views on BYU and Utah state?

What were the views of the students you interviewed? Positive or negative?

I went to BYU Idaho, and the only reason I saw people not reporting something was because they were doing something that could get them kicked out as well, so the amnesty change is huge, great work!

racheltachel6 karma

For students, it really varied. Some people ended up transferring, or dropping out of school entirely. Some completed their education.

We've continued to try to track people's experiences, and how policies are playing out at both schools.

cahaseler5 karma

How has the community responded to your revelations? Are you perceived as anti-mormon or helping them uncover corruption or what?

Thank you for doing this today!

racheltachel17 karma

One clear response to the issues raised in our work were the sweeping changes at BYU, including the adoption of an amnesty policy. I'd say the number of people who accused The Tribune of reporting on these issues because it is anti-Mormon was small.

racheltachel15 karma

Although Erin Alberty was accused a few times on Twitter of writing the stories because of anti-BYU football allegiances.

brittersbear3 karma

What is the best way to approach this subject with the survivors of these crimes?

racheltachel11 karma

I don't know that there's one best way. But from some of our reporting we've seen that survivors may feel isolated when people who care about them *aren't* asking how they're doing, or following up. A simple inquiry about how someone is feeling or doing, or asking if they want to talk, can be helpful. Keeping that door open that you're a person who is willing to talk and listen can be good; even if he or she doesn't want to take you up on it at that moment, they may at some point in the future.

FannyStenhouse3 karma

You guys did fantastic work! Have you looked into sexual assaults and coverups at SUU? I keep hearing about things like this....

racheltachel4 karma

We have, and continue to, pursue these topics across campuses, and are always willing to hear from students and others.

lula24882 karma

What part of reality hit you like a brick growing up?

racheltachel5 karma

That people and relationships change and weaken